The excitement of writing where you shouldn’t. We all know children who’ve done it. On a wall. Over a display. On a table. On an interactive whiteboard…when it’s switched off. On themselves. All children have the instinct to make their mark. To an adult mind, it sometimes seems wholly inappropriate. So if you can’t beat them, why not join them? If we are encouraging young learners to engage in mark making and literacy, why not challenge them to do it in the strangest of places and on objects that they normally would not have licence to write on?
Of course, with any risk-taking activity there needs to be clear boundaries. Children need to be told explicitly what is and isn’t suitable to draw on in the classroom. But they also need to be excited about the notion of making their mark. As adults, these days we rarely model writing or drawing for our learners. It just isn’t something we have the need to do any more in our increasingly digitalised world.
Consultants and advisers can bang on about how we need to create ‘a purpose’ for writing and then model it for learners. This made sense 10 or 15 years ago when people in shops wrote out receipts, we sent postcards from far-flung places and a hand-written letter to the headteacher was replied to on headed paper with a real (versus digital) signature. Those days simply don’t exist any longer. Our means of communication is simply not written by hand. And so we as teachers need to think creatively about how we might develop those all important literacy skills amongst children and demonstrate that they are important, invaluable and most of all, can still be thrilling.
With last week having been World Book Day, we thought we would share the ‘story sheet’. This isn’t about writing on templates with pictures around the edge. Or using writing frames or zigzag books. And it is not about writing on a topic specified by adults. It is child-led story writing.
A wonderful book stimulated this activity – The Story Blanket by Ferida Wolff & Harriet May Savitz.
In the story, children come every day to sit on a story blanket to hear the captivating stories told by Babba Zarrah. But mysteriously, every day the blanket gets smaller. Essentially, because the village is cut off by snow there is a shortage of wool. Wool from the knitted story blanket is slowly being unravelled to be knitted by Babba Zarrah into various items needed within the community. At the end of the story, the villagers club together to donate a whole lot of wool to Babba Zarrah so that she can knit another story blanket for the children to sit on – to continue to spread her magic through her stories. In the book there are wonderful metaphors about weaving tales with words and literally spinning yarns, as well as themes of kindness and compassion for those around us.
So we decided to present to the children, not a story blanket but a story sheet. It provides a blank canvas for mark making and drawing and the children can decorate it as they will. Firstly, it is unusual to draw on as it is fabric – pens move across it differently, it is soft to touch. That in itself lures in those reluctant mark makers. Secondly, it eliminates the need for large sheets of paper or expensive whiteboards. Thirdly, it does not dictate what the children write.
The learning is deepened by having an adult scribe the children’s stories, which can form instant displays, class books and opportunities for sharing and acting out stories with the whole class. At the end of it all, the sheet can become a resource to which the children can continue to add or talk about – a story sheet to be brought out independently and used by the children to retell their stories to their peers. And it can be washed on a high temperature and be used all over again for new stories and more challenging writing as the children progress.
Now that’s what we call exciting recycling knitted together with some Literacy.
For more information on how to create and use story sheets to develop Literacy in your setting, please contact email@example.com